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U of U hosts panel about rural/urban divide

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) - Lt. Governor Spencer Cox led a panel discussion at the University of Utah Monday discussing the issues facing rural communities. A recent study by U of U students focused on why kids in those communities aren't seeking a higher education.

Nathan Kunz is a Senior at the U of U and helped with the study. One of the things that surprised them is that many students in rural areas do show an interest in college.

"Rural students are interested in going to college, and they say so when they're in high school but they still decide not to go," said Kunz.

Research found that students in rural communities often don't have the encouragement or tools from teachers and parents. Kunz said a proposed solution isn't just about four year degrees, but also letting students know about technical training and freelance options.

Lt. Gov. Spenser Cox led the panel discussion. He told stories about his families history living in rural communities and their struggles with poverty. He also pointed out that much of the opportunity for rural communities has left.

"The old economy left us, but the new economy never found us," said Lt. Gov. Cox.

The Lieutenant Governor said a big advantage of rural Utah is that they have access to high-speed internet. He believes that could attract businesses and help relieve problems along the Wasatch Front.

"So being able to expand there, allowing people to work online, and telecommute from rural Utah," said Lt. Gov. Cox. "I really think can provide some advantages to companies here."

Everyone on the panel agreed that urban areas of Utah will be key to helping rural areas of the state. Lynn Pace is the Senior Advisor Intergovernmental Affairs for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski. He notes the commuter model of working is no longer sustainable.

"Have everybody in the surrounding area come into the city and go back," said Pace. "Drive in their own car and park for free, those days are gone."

Pace said making better opportunities in rural communities could also help relieve housing pressure which are forcing prices up.

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